Friday, June 22, 2007

Apollo program for climate change?

An Apollo Program for Climate Change. That's the provocative title in an op-ed in the Washington Post. It was written by David Sokol, who happens to be CEO of a large energy holding company owned by Berkeshire Hathaway.

The content wasn't quite what I was expecting from the title. It wasn't asking for a coordinated program toward one thing, which is the wrong approach since it will take many different technologies to stop global warming. Sokol explains:
Besides finding new ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, we need to do research to achieve breakthroughs in renewable energy, nuclear technologies and reductions in demand, as well as improvements in high-voltage transmission systems and the retrofitting of existing fossil-fuel plants. Achieving a future of low carbon emissions is not a matter of choosing one technology over another. All must play a role.

Sokol is instead asking for an Apollo-program level of funding which would be about $46 to $60 billion in todays dollars. That's a good start.

You almost couldn't tell this was written by an energy company CEO except for this dismissal of carbon caps:
Placing caps on carbon emissions before the technology is available to actually reduce those emissions will simply impose a tax on the American people without any positive environmental benefits. There has to be a better way.

Sokol goes on the say we need more than just cap-and-trade which is true but putting a price on carbon at least puts market forces at work for the climate instead of against it. How can a good capitalist like Sokol's boss Warren Buffet object to that?

P.S. Sorry for the long absence. June has been a busy month and I have another week of job-related travel ahead of me. I promise more posts in July.

Monday, June 04, 2007

George W. Bush: "I'm the denier"

As the IPCC reports were released, I expected there to be a lot of the typical "false balance" reporting from the mainstream media. But that didn't happen. The stories about the IPCC reports were straightforward, maybe even a little gloomy, and contained no equivalent amounts of text from the climate change denier crowd. It seems the main media outlets of the U.S. instantly decided Singer and Lindzen et al. were no longer worth quoting. With a few notable exceptions.

But there's one climate change personality the press still treats with unwarranted credibility: George W. Bush.

Now Bush isn't really a denier. He's careful not to say climate change isn't happening or that mankind isn't responsible. He just says we there can't be any forced emission reductions. To me, that makes him a "denier in spirit" because the result is the same as if the denier crowd was controlling the debate: nothing should be done to stop global warming.

In advance of the G8 summit, it looked like some serious pressure was getting put on Bush to do something. First there were all kinds of unflattering leaks about how the U.S. was resisting the text in a statement on climate change. Then direct political pressure was applied from people such as Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who, while in Berlin, said Bush should make a major deal, as quoted in this Reuters story by Erik Kirschbaum:
"The science is clear, the challenge is undeniable," Pelosi said. "We have to work together, though, to reach a solution."

Pelosi met with German Prime Minster Merkel, a meeting which signaled Germany was willing to put up a fight, according to this International Herald Tribune story.

In typical Bush administration fashion, a big speech was rolled out that sounded good but had no substance at all. And, as illustrated by the Washington Post's Dan Froomkin, the mainstream media bought it and sold it back to the public.
The White House yesterday showed that it still knows how to play the American press like a harp.
President Bush yesterday put forth a new proposal on climate change that is most newsworthy for its attempt to muddy the debate about the issue and derail European and U.N. plans for strict caps on emissions.....But a change in rhetoric was enough to generate some headlines about the administration's attention to the issue: Bush Proposes Goals on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, reads the New York Times headline. Bush Proposes Talks on Warming, says The Washington Post's front page. Bush offers to take climate lead, proclaims the Los Angeles Times.

Please read the whole piece by Froomkin to see just how cynical this Bush speech was.

David Roberts over at comes to a similar conclusion.
As you can see -- and as you would expect -- this announcement from Bush is not a genuine change of heart on climate change. The U.S. still will not agree to any emission reduction targets. It will not agree that the developed countries bear primary responsibility for climate change. It will not sign on to the growing consensus among developed nations about how to tackle the problem

Joe Brewer of the Rockridge Institute dissects the framing of Bush's speech.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Underreported story on CO2 emissions?

My good friend Michael Tobis is wondering why the main stream media didn't make a big deal out of a joint statement by multiple national scientific academies that we should move to a more sustainable energy system. This statement was targeted at the upcoming G8 summit which otherwise has gotten a lot of press in relation to the climate change topic.

I have an underreported story too: this article by Peter Spotts in the Christian Science Monitor covers a report by the Global Carbon Project, which was coincidentally published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that CO2 emissions rose dramatically in the first part of the 21st century:
CO2 emissions from cars, factories, and power plants grew at an annual rate of 1.1 percent during the 1990s, according to the Global Carbon Project, which is a data clearinghouse set up in 2001 as a cooperative effort among UN-related groups and other scientific organizations. But from 2000 to 2004, CO2 emissions rates almost tripled to 3 percent a year – higher than any rate used in emissions scenarios for the reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

There's some discussion that maybe its a temporary effect created by leaving the 2000 recession and a spike in natural gas prices leading to more coal burning. On the other hand, maybe this is China showing up. I'm surprised this didn't get more press just for supporting the "blame China" people.

Another quote from this excellent article:
The Global Carbon Project study held two surprises for everyone involved, [Christopher] Field says. "The first was how big the change in emissions rates is between the 1990s and after 2000." The other: "The number on carbon intensity of the world economy is going up."

In other words, the warnings from the IPCC AR4, which were so powerful that cut off access to the main stream media by the denier camp, may now be both out of date and underestimating the problem.

I haven't seen original reporting anywhere else besides CSM.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

State and local action to reduce CO2

Since the U.S. government will most like do nothing substantive between now and January, 2009, several states and municipalities are taking action to reduce CO2 emissions and some of this is getting covered.

The San Francisco Chronicle (Carolyn Jones) covers Berkeley's substantial efforts to reduce its carbon footprint:
Six months after Berkeley voters overwhelmingly passed Measure G, a mandate to reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, the city is laying out a long-term road map for residents, business and industry. It includes everything from solar panels at the Pacific Steel foundry to composted table scraps.

The article in places uses what I think is some poorly chosen language about how hard this is going to be. There's the title "IT WON'T BE EASY BEING GREEN: Berkeley sets tough course for its residents to follow to help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in city". First of all, the residents voted to do this themselves. It was not "set" on residents by some outside authority. And again there's this assumed hardship of de-carbonizing compared to burning CO2 without a care in the world. Has anyone speculated on daily life in an all-carbon-all-the-time future? I bet its no picnic.

The Washington Post covers attempts by the states to set their own vehicle emissions standards. This is fallout from the recent Supreme Court decision that the EPA can regulate CO2. Further fallout is in this article from Joel Havemann and Johanna Neuman at the Los Angeles Times about California's request to set tougher emissions standards. Look at this bizzare comment from an auto industry lobbyist:
Steven Douglas, a representative of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said California cannot prove a link between global warming and carbon dioxide emissions by motor vehicles in the state. Global warming is a global problem, he said, and California could not prove that the state could solve it because there are so many other sources of greenhouse gases.
"prove a link?". These guys are definitely cribing from the tobacco industry playbook. But then Mr. Douglas undercuts his denialism with a small-scale version of the "we shouldn't do anything until the Chinese do something" game.

All CO2 emissions count towards the problem and any reduction is a good thing, including California's cars. No one act will solve the global warming problem. Its going to take many things and this is one of them.